Interview with Justo Eiroa of JRE Cigars

The JRE Tobacco Co. is a seed to cigar enterprise that was founded by Julio Eiroa and his son Justo Eiroa (brother of Christian Eiroa who owns the C.L.E. Cigars Co.) two tobacco growers who are known for developing and perfecting the Corojo varietal, which they refer to as Authentic Corojo. In 2015, they released the Aladino, which is a very Cubanesque cigar that became a big hit. Since then, this father and son team have released the Tatascan and the Rancho Luna line. Justo Eiroa sat down with Neptune Cigars to discuss their company’s success with Corojo tobacco and their fine line of cigars.

Neptune: How did the Aladino brand get started?

Justo Eiroa: Aladino is one of the most “Cubanistic” brands today in the U.S. market, because we use the Authentic Corojo tobacco as a base. However, Aladino has expanded to different wrappers. We now have a maduro, which is box-pressed with a San Andres wrapper. We also have the Reserva and the Vintage. I’m a mild to medium smoker. You are not going to see me smoking a Reserva. I’m kind of like my dad. We also came out with a Cameroon and a Connecticut. Now we are coming out with a Habano. We also carry a higher priming cigar, which is the Reserva, which only comes in a robusto and toro. Once a year we separate the smaller leaves, which we can use in a corona size to use as wrapper. We are able to come out with about 800 to 900 boxes. This year [2020] we were only able to come out with 800 boxes. Everything that came in was pre-ordered six months ago and it was shipped out. I know you guys [Neptune] ordered about 40 boxes, and I’m sure whoever gets their hands on them will enjoy it because it is a very special cigar because of the high primming’s.


Neptune: How did you join JRE? How did that come about?

Justo: My dad and I are farmers. I went to agriculture school, so I’m an agronomist. Since the early ‘90s I was always on the farm side. I was never on the front side where all the retailers and the branding of cigars. I was preparing the crops, doing the pest management, and involved with farm operations. I also had a water bottling plant. When my dad got into his late seventies and early eighties, he said, “We need continuity.” Since he knew I liked the farm, he wanted me to go back into the family business, and I was able to do that. In 2015 he had a non-compete because he had sold Camacho, so he had to stay away. He focused on what he knows best, which is growing Corojo. We had a lot of inventory. A lot of great tobacco to make cigars. We just started out with an all Corojo line. We started with a wide portfolio of SKUs, twelve SKUs from a petite corona all the way to a size 48 by 9” Patton. Slowly as you go out into the market you have to win the space in the stores.


Neptune: You come from a different industry. Do you apply anything you learned from your previous business to the cigar industry?

Eiroa: Actually, I do. I come from a high-volume beverage business. In the beverage business you focus on a few SKUs. You do that in a simple manner because you don’t want to over-extend everything. Everything I try to do involves working a lot with the brick-and-mortar stores because at the end of the day, the brick-and-mortar stores are going to help you develop and create the brand by making recommendations to smokers. I do follow that path that I used to do in the beverage business. We focus a lot on the guys that are on the floor.

Neptune: Is that the reason Aladino has kept a small portfolio as compared to other brand’s that put out one release after another?

Justo Eiroa: I’m going to give you a perfect example. If you look at Coca-Cola, their top selling SKU is Coca-Cola Classic. They have Coca-Cola Zero, Diet Coke and Sprite, and that’s 95 to 97 percent of their business. If you keep a few items but you’re consistent and good that’s what you want to do. You need to be consistent with your product. That’s one of the things we are focused on. I will do some special cigars because the way we grow and age tobacco allows us to do that, but I don’t want to overwhelm the consumer by always coming up with something new. In the cigar industry we are always looking for what’s new. The younger consumer wants to try something new. The older consumer wants something more traditional. You stick to a pattern of consumption that is very stable. But with the cigar industry the younger generation they want what’s new. I don’t want to fall into that even though it is necessary to have the ability to bring in new stuff once in a while to the consumers.


Neptune: Let’s talk about the Aladino Cameroon. Do you think it was the right moment to come out with Cameroon, a wrapper that is not that popular?

Justo:  The wrapper has not been that popular because of the way they have grown it. It is grown in Africa. They grow large amounts of it, and they harvest it, and then for some reason or other it becomes a little bit scarce. My dad has been working on this project even when we had Camacho, we did come out with a line of Cameroon, which was the Camacho Select. My dad always liked Cameroon. He always liked the challenge of growing it with his own stuff. We were able to get the seed and for the last five or six years we have been working on it and actually perfected it. So far, the Cameroon for us has been a great success. Don’t get me wrong not everyone likes Cameroon. Several retailers have told me, “this is a great Cameroon. But what you need to understand is that the people that like Cameroon don’t like this Cameroon so that means it’s a real Cameroon.” The Cameroon is a very sweet natural smoke. It also has some personality. It has a little pepper in it. It is right between the Connecticut and the regular Corojo. It is doing a fantastic job. Right now, it is experiencing a huge growth in popularity.


Neptune: The Aladino Cameroon is not your typical Cameroon. It is grown in Honduras. What other types of tobacco are you growing in Honduras?

Eiroa: As a grower, at the end of the day, we grow tobacco, and we like to give consistency. That’s the advantage of working with family companies that are integrated. The way you keep quality is by having the ability to grow your own tobacco. There are some wrappers that we buy. We buy San Andres maduro and we also buy the Connecticut because we have not been able to master that. We also grow Corojo, Habano, and now Cameroon. We have also grown Connecticut and a little bit of Connecticut Broadleaf. We have some other stuff in the back.


Neptune: What is the next project?

Justo Eiroa: In the Aladino line we came out with the Vintage, which is a true Rothschild a 48 by 4.5” with a Habano wrapper. This has been a great success. I think next year we will be coming out with a Lancero and also a toro. Two more sizes will be added to the Aladino line in the Habano. In the Reserva we are looking into another size to be part of the regular line.


Neptune: Going back to the Habano. There is a size not many people are smoking, but I think it is an amazing size. It is the Patton. How did you come up with that size?

Justo: My dad is an Army veteran. He always admired General Patton, so that size is made in memory of General Patton. It is a very classic Cuban cigar. The size is intimidating. When you get a 48 by 9” you know this is a four-hour cigar. It ranges around $20. It is a fantastic cigar to smoke on special occasions. It smokes beautifully. It is a traditional Churchill plus two inches.


Neptune: Will we see the Corojo Reserva in that size?

Eiroa: As we go through the process of manufacturing Reservas every year, the smaller leaves that we can’t use for a robusto or a toro, we separate it and we hold that and once we accumulate enough, we are able to do a run of coronas, because we don’t want to use the larger leaves that we use for the robusto and toro on a corona size because you will be wasting a lot of wrapper.


Neptune: Are you planning to change the way you grow tobacco so that the Corojo Reserva can be a full production cigar and have it available all year around?

Justo Eiroa: The Corojo Reserva is available all year around. We limit the number of cigars we sell to a store usually four boxes of the robusto and four boxes of the toro. We don’t want to over produce it because we want to maintain the consistency and quality.


Neptune: What about the Vintage?

Justo: When my dad started thinking about his comeback, one of the things he did was he started making Rothschilds. Instead of the robusto he made the Rothschild. He made a bunch of them. It is one of his favorite sizes. One of the things we decided to do was put on a Habano wrapper, and this cigar came out spectacularly. It’s got punch. It’s got smoothness, flavor, personality and it retailed for six bucks. It is a cigar anyone can smoke anytime. You are going to get an amazing flavor. And it might give us the opportunity to come out with a toro sometime in the first quarter of next year [2021].


Neptune: Why is it that the only people in the industry that use the term Authentic Corojo is the Eiroa family? Everyone else in the industry uses Corojo ’98 or Corojo ’99.

Eiroa: The Corojo variety is a smaller plant. It is way more susceptible to blue mold. It was basically wiped out in the ‘90s due to the blue mold. Cuba started crossbreeding the original Corojo variety with the Habano and other varieties. What you get is something similar in taste, but it is not as intense in the flavor profile as the Corojo. Crossbreeding gives you a better yield. Whereas with Corojo you get 1,400 pounds versus 2,200 pounds. The real Corojo is 40% less. We are sticking to that and we made it a trade name. During the Camacho days, we were very successful with it, and everyone started following that trend. It is a leaf that is very palate friendly. People like it because of the flavor and the natural sweetness. It also gives you a little bit of pepper and spice.


Neptune: I noticed that the Aladino Corojo has a redness to it. Is that natural? Or is that the way you crop it?

Justo Eiroa: It is not only how you crop it. It is also how you process it and getting the right humidity in the pilones. It is the whole process.


Neptune: Will we be seeing Aladino being made in other countries? Or a collaboration with a factory from another country?

Justo: At this point in time, we are still in the process of getting into stores and getting our brand to be known. It might take us a little longer to think about that type of collaboration. We still have our own projects to do. We still have a lot of stores to open. We still have a lot of groundwork to do to get our brand to be known. At this particular time, I don’t see that. But you know, you can never say no.  


Neptune: What about your other lines? What about the Rancho Luna and the Tatascan? How are those brand’s doing?

Eiroa: Tatascan does extremely well. Rancho Luna is probably our slowest of all, but I love that blend because it is very smooth. It is very “Cubanistic.” It has components of Corojo and Habano. It has not picked up its legs yet. It is a fantastic smoke. The price point is much more friendly for the consumer. I think it is a wonderful cigar. Once it develops a following in the stores, it does really well. I would suggest anybody who has not tried Rancho Luna to really go out and try it.


Neptune: Recently you guys released some big ring size cigars. Why?

Justo Eiroa: There is a huge number of big ring gauge cigars being sold in the market. As a tobacco grower and manufacturer, you have to cater to that demand. If you cater to those guys, they will try your smaller gauges.


Neptune: What can you tell us about the Canadian market?

Justo: In Canada they have gone to plain label, which is all generic. Everything is green. Everything is in white letters. There is no display of any branding. We have a distributor in Canada who is doing a great job with Aladino, Tatascan, and Rancho Luna. Everything we have made for them is plain packaging and they have all these warning labels, which try to dissuade anyone from smoking. It is a market that is going to suffer because it takes a lot of resources and energy to cater to that market.


Neptune: How are you doing in the European market?

Eiroa: I have not really looked into the European market. The U.S. is our main market. We are trying to establish ourselves here. This is our fifth year in the market. I think for a five-year company getting traction and recognition in the market is very important for us. For me, now is not the time to focus on Europe.


Neptune: Do you think a collaboration right now would help the brand with people who don’t know much about Aladino yet? Perhaps, a collaboration with Christian Eiroa?

Justo Eiroa: My brother Christian and I are super close. If something like that would come up, I have no issues with that. We would have to think about something like big brother and little brother or something like that.

Published January 10, 2021 

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